WASHINGTON — It was supposed to be a ceremony focused on honoring Native American “code talkers”. But that focus quickly shifted from those who used their tribal language to relay military orders during World War II, to language President Donald Trump used while recognizing them.
“I just want to thank you because you are very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here,” President Trump said. “Although, we have a representative in Congress who has been here a long time, longer than you. They call her Pocahontas.”
The President was referring to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed she is part Cherokee.
After the event, the Navajo Nation released a statement calling the president’s words “culturally insensitive”.
“In this day and age, all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy,” said a statement by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. “As Native Americans, we are proud people who have taken care of this land long before there was the United States of America and we will continue to fight for this Nation.”
Begaye added: “It was our code talkers that ensured the freedom of the United States, and that’s what is important to remember here.”
The National Congress of American Indians — the largest and oldest group representing Native Americans — condemned President Trump’s use of “Pocahontas” to deride Warren, saying the “slur” overshadowed the Native American war heroes the President was there to honor.
Pocahontas, they added, was a real person whose historic significance is still important to her tribe, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia.
Warren told Anderson Cooper she “really couldn’t believe” the statement was even made.
“There he was, at a ceremony to honor Native Americans, men who have really put it all on the line to save American lives, to save lives of people, our allies, during World War II, really amazing people. And President Trump couldn’t even make it through a ceremony to honor these men without throwing in a racial slur.”
President Trump has repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of Warren’s Native American heritage claims, including during his presidential bid.
In June 2016, Mr. Trump told NBC News in a phone interview that Warren “made up her heritage, which I think is racist. I think she’s a racist, actually, because what she did was very racist.”
When asked about it on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the President did not intend to sound offensive or use a slur.
“I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career.”
The senator said she “never used it to get ahead.”
“Never. I never used it to get ahead I never used it to get into school. I never used it to get a job. Look, this is just a way for Donald Trump to be able to try to get somebody talking about something other than what he’s doing,” Warren said.
“I learned about my family the way that most people learn about their families,” Warren said. “My brothers and I learned from our mother and our daddy and our grandparents who we are. And that’s it. That’s how we learned it. That’s what we know.”
Adding fuel to critical fire, Mr. Trump’s comment was made underneath a portrait of Andrew Jackson — the president who signed into law the Indian Removal Act.